Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights: Is It Right for Kids?

Lisa Fritscher September 15, 2014 1 Comment

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The Caretaker

The Caretaker was one of Halloween Horror Nights’ most beloved icon characters.

At one time a minor holiday best known for trick-or-treating and costume parties, Halloween has become big business in the United States. From tiny home-based haunts through elaborate high-dollar events, Halloween is now a season packed with the opportunity to go out and get scared. With a 100-year legacy of horror, Universal Studios is among the best in the business. For an average of 28 nights in September and October, Universal Studios Orlando is transformed into a fright fest worthy of any blockbuster horror film.

 

Halloween Horror Nights History
In 1991, Universal Orlando decided to throw a Halloween party at its year-old park. Then called Fright Nights, the three-night event included one haunted house, a few walk-around actors and several street shows. The name changed to Halloween Horror Nights in 1992, and that year’s party was billed as the second annual Halloween Horror Nights. The event has evolved dramatically over the years as the dedicated Art and Design team learned what worked and how to streamline the mechanics for an ever-growing audience.

 

Rat Lady

Trapped in a Plexiglas coffin, the Rat Lady has been a fan favorite since the earliest days of Halloween Horror Nights.

The Haunted Houses
The haunted houses are the heart of the Halloween Horror Nights experience. Each year brings seven to eight fully developed houses packed with live actors, animatronics, movie-quality sets and professional lighting and sound effects. Some years, the haunted houses are part of a larger cohesive event storyline. Sometimes they are based on hit films, such as the Saw series, or video games, such as Silent Hill. Some years bring sequels to previous houses alongside all-new frights. In 2012, Universal partnered with master magicians Penn and Teller to develop New(kd) Las Vegas, a post-apocalyptic comedy horror house set in Las Vegas after the accidental detonation of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Penn and Teller were involved in every step of the design process, and even surprised fans by making random appearances in their house on some event nights.

The haunted houses are highly immersive, intentionally scary and often extremely gory. The actors take advantage of the distractions provided by low lighting, fog and animatronics to produce in-your-face scares. Some kids absolutely love the experience, laughing their way through the houses, while others are frankly terrified. Even some adults are unable to handle the intensity of the haunted houses.

If your kids are brave and you don’t mind gore, there is nothing inappropriate inside the haunted houses. Universal’s Art and Design team carefully crafts its scares, avoiding such sensitive topics as religion and keeping racy suggestiveness to a minimum. In addition, each year generally brings a comedy house. While still scary, the comedy houses bring laughs along with the frights. They are a good way to test your kids’ mettle before taking them into the more intense houses.

 

Scare Zone

Most years, the streets are divided into scare zones, each with its own theme.

The Streets
The haunted houses are not the only places that can make you jump at Halloween Horror Nights. Universal Studios’ streets are also packed with live actors capable of delivering a great scare. Some years, the actors are divided into dedicated, heavily themed “scare zones.” Other years, the entire park is considered a scare zone, and the actors even make their way into the shops and restaurants.

In general, the streets are less scary than the houses due to their open nature. Many of the actors are willing to pose for photos, unlike the houses, where photos are strictly forbidden. Nonetheless, it is good to always be on your guard. As a former scare actor who now runs a small local haunt each year, I am almost impossible to scare. Yet two years ago, a street actor got me good. I was cutting through a small, dimly lit walkway on my way to the restroom, and paying more attention to my phone than to my surroundings. An actor had completely hidden himself in the bushes. He leapt out, growling loudly, and landed directly beside my right ear! I am embarrassed to admit that I shrieked before bursting into laughter and applause.

 

The Shows
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure has been a Halloween Horror Nights staple since 1992. Hosted by Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan from the films Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, the show is a wildly popular spoof of the previous year’s pop culture.

Bill and Ted

Bill and Ted, from the movies of the same name, have hosted a pop culture spoof show every year since 1992.

The Bill and Ted show is somewhat racy and suggestive, but not blatantly inappropriate. Most of the adult humor seems to go right over the heads of the kids in the audience, but the singing and dancing is catchy for all. If your kids are into the latest movies, music or celebrities, they will enjoy the loving send-up of their favorites.

Most years, Halloween Horror Nights also hosts one or two additional shows. Bizarre magicians are a perennial favorite, but recent years have brought the Rocky Horror Picture Show Tribute. Compressing the full plot of the cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show into half an hour, the Tribute incorporates film clips, live actors and a great deal of audience participation. If you have never seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight, in a theater with a live cast, attend a showing without the kids before deciding whether to attend the Tribute. Universal tries to prevent some of the raunchiest audience callback lines, but many of the attendees are dedicated fans who shout questionable comments at top volume.

 

Security

Security is taken very seriously, with park security guards and police officers stationed throughout the park.

The Crowd
Halloween Horror Nights is rated PG-13 and is billed as an adult party. Children of all ages are allowed to attend, but do not receive a discount on admission. Alcohol is readily available at stands and restaurants throughout the park, and women in bloodied nurse outfits sell Jello shots in miniature blood bags.

Between the alcohol, the scares and the general excitement, rowdiness is not uncommon. However, Universal takes security very seriously. Uniformed and plain clothes police officers, as well as uniformed and plain clothes security guards, are prevalent throughout the park. Fighting, line jumping and other bad behavior is immediately dealt with, usually by eviction from the park and sometimes arrest. Therefore, the risk of physical harm to you or your children is exceptionally low.

 

When to Go
In general, the best times to go are late September, Halloween night, and any event nights that run into November. Opening weekend is generally crowded with hardcore fans, who are very friendly and respectful, but can create long lines. The second and third weekends are relatively uncrowded, and the actors have begun to find their characters. The crowds gradually get bigger as the event progresses, culminating in the week between October 19 and 26, popularly termed “Hell Week.” Florida schools are on holiday at this time, and the crowd is a bit rougher than usual. Crowds are surprisingly low during Halloween week, and very small on Halloween night, as people attend parties and other events that are held on a more limited schedule. If any event dates fall in November, the park is generally uncrowded, except on the very last night of the run.

Chainsaw Drill Team

The Chainsaw Drill Team is great at parting any crowd!

When traveling with kids, consider avoiding Friday and Saturday nights as well. Although the event is open extended hours and more scare actors are on duty, the locals tend to come out to party on those nights. Lines are longer and people are generally rowdier. Choose a night in the middle of the week, or a Sunday, whenever possible. If you must visit on the weekend, Friday is usually less busy than Saturday.

 

Practical Considerations
As of 2013, a one-night ticket was $92, but few people pay full price. If you plan to visit just one night, and will also visit the parks during the day, a Stay and Scream pass is as little as $39 depending on the night of the week. If you will attend multiple nights, season passes are only slightly more expensive than one-night tickets. Annual pass holders, Florida residents and those staying in an official Universal resort hotel receive major discounts.

Visiting the parks earlier in the day is highly recommended due to the way crowd control is managed. If you are inside Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure before the park closes for the day, and already have a Halloween Horror Nights ticket, you can make your way to your choice of holding areas at park closing. Our favorite is at Finnegan’s, an Irish pub-style restaurant that remains open during the wait. Those in the holding areas are released before the front gates open for the event.

If you are not in the park before daytime closing, you must wait in a long line outside the park gates for an additional security check beyond those performed during the day. The security lines move slowly, potentially taking away from the time you have to enjoy Halloween Horror Nights.

 

Unmasking the Horror

On an Unmasking the Horror tour, a VIP guide will show you the lights-on secrets of two Halloween Horror Nights haunted houses.

Express and RIP
Due to the overwhelming popularity of the event, Express passes are absolutely essential for those trying to see everything in one night. Even on slower nights, the more popular haunted houses regularly draw lines of up to an hour. On busier evenings, it is not unusual to see wait times of two hours or more. Express passes allow you to utilize a shorter line at all haunted houses and some shows. Season passes are available with Express access for all eligible nights at a higher fee. The Express pass benefit included with a stay at an official Universal resort hotel is not valid during Halloween Horror Nights.

RIP tours are the Halloween Horror Nights version of VIP tours. RIP tours are led by long-time Universal employees with an encyclopedic knowledge of both Halloween Horror Nights and the parks in general. RIP tour participants receive immediate access, ahead of Express, to the haunted houses and the Bill and Ted show. Private RIP tours are very expensive, but you can sign up for a public tour, in which you will tour with a small group of strangers, for much less.

Unmasking the Horror tours are an excellent choice for Halloween aficionados. These daytime tours take you behind the scenes of the event, including previously unprecedented access to two haunted houses. These reasonably-priced tours are also great for kids who love Halloween but are not quite ready for the full nighttime experience.

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avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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One Comments to “Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights: Is It Right for Kids?”
  1. avatar Central Florida Haunts: Local Haunted Attractions says:

    [...] Central Florida is well-known for its major theme park haunts, including Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights and Busch Gardens Tampa’s Howl-O-Scream, as well as the permanent Legends: A Haunting at Old [...]